9% Increase in Lab Confirmed Flu Cases Statewide
13% Decrease in Hospitalizations Since Last Week; Second Consecutive Week of Decline
8,468 New Yorkers Ages 2-18 Vaccinated at Pharmacies Since Governor's January 25 Executive Order
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the extension of an emergency executive order which allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18. Aimed at preventing the spread of influenza, the executive order increases access and convenience for New York families seeking the flu vaccine as diagnoses continued to rise across the state. Last week, 18,258 laboratory confirmed influenza cases were reported to the New York State Department of Health, again the highest weekly number since reporting began in 2004. The number of weekly hospitalizations decreased for the second consecutive week since influenza was declared prevalent in December, with 2,160 New Yorkers hospitalized for lab confirmed influenza.
"As this flu epidemic continues, I again urge New Yorkers to take every precaution to fight this virus and protect themselves and their loved ones," Governor Cuomo said. "We will continue to ensure availability and affordability of the flu vaccine, and I encourage all New Yorkers to take advantage of the expanded access and get vaccinated."
The extended Executive Order suspends the section of state education law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to anyone under age 18 to allow vaccines to be administered to anyone age 2 and up. Parents and guardians are encouraged to call pharmacies ahead of their visit, to ensure they are ready to receive patients in this age group. Parents and guardians with children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months are still encouraged to see their primary care provider for the vaccination.
Last week, Governor Cuomo announced a 30-day budget amendment to increase convenience and vaccine accessibility by amending state education law allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18, thereby codifying Executive Order 176. As a result, this legislation will encourage pharmacies to enroll in the New York State Vaccines for Children Program, which provides vaccines to children and individuals regardless of their ability to pay. The Governor also called on individual physicians to enroll in the Vaccines for Children program, if not already enrolled.
Governor Cuomo previously directed the New York State Department of Health to authorize enhanced reimbursement for counties statewide to further expanded flu vaccination efforts at the local level. The Department of Health's website links to local health departments, providing New Yorkers with a one-stop-shop approach to finding local vaccination clinics. The Department of Health is also promoting the use of HealthMap Vaccine Finder which identifies locations where vaccines can be found at other locations in New York State at http://www.vaccinefinder.org/.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Even though fewer New Yorkers were hospitalized with influenza last week, New Yorkers must continue to be vigilant. Governor Cuomo is taking bold actions to help keep New Yorkers healthy, including ensuring people across the state have access to flu vaccines and antiviral medications. Prevention remains the best way to stop the spread of the flu, so get vaccinated if you haven't already, stay home if you are sick, and be sure to practice good hand hygiene."
For the last 11 weeks, influenza has been geographically widespread across New York. As of February 17th, 87,619 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza have been reported and 16,578 people have been hospitalized with influenza in New York State this season. There have been 5 pediatric influenza deaths this flu season. 14,175 children under the age of five have been diagnosed with lab confirmed influenza and 1,098 have been hospitalized.
During last year's flu season, there were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations and eight pediatric deaths in New York. Over the last four years, there have been a total of 25 pediatric flu deaths in New York State and an average of 10,571 flu-related hospitalizations a year.
CDC also recommends that people who are very sick or people who are at high risk of serious influenza complications be treated early with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within 48 hours of symptoms first appearing. The Department of Health remains aware of some localized shortages of specific formulations of influenza antivirals, particularly the oseltamivir oral suspension and generic oseltamivir capsules, and continues to work with providers to make sure they are aware of all potential sources of these medications. The Department is also closely monitoring vaccine supply and encourages residents to call ahead to providers.
In addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, it's essential to practice good hand-hygiene:
- Unlike some viruses, influenza is easily killed by soap and hot water.
- Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available. Choose a product with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. People with the flu are infectious for up to 7 days after symptoms begin.
For more information about the flu, visit: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal